Friday, July 31, 2009

PROOF proves to be pretty good

After a week of quiet from our trip, we are back on the food circuit and decided to finally get to PROOF (775 G St, where we ate and drank way too much with our dear friends, but had a fantastic time. In general, our server Max took care of our needs quite well and made some great suggestions. We did need some wine poured here and there...but managed fine.

The setting is nice and NOT too loud, even on a Friday night, although the bar is crowded as there are so many wines and options by the glass. The decor is simple, yet comfortable, and while the name implies the wine is the star here, the food is just as good in most cases.

As always, we were asked if we wanted sparkling or flat, and we opted for sparkling and asked what types they had. Max told us proudly that Proof is the first restaurant in DC to use the Nordaq in house filtering system, but still charges for $5/carafe! WOW, that's a lot for water that costs virtually nothing. Maybe once the system is paid off, they can stop charging as so many other places using similar systems do.

The flatbread was puffy and irresistible and came with a yogurt and chive dip. We tried not to fill up as we had so much coming... We started with the Chef's Charcuterie Board which is a huge platter for $28 including gherkins, breads, mustard, dates, raw honey, and of course the meats: Bresaolo, a fennel salami, Chorizo, Coppa Salami, Cacciatore, Gentile, Sopressato, Speck, Saucisson de Lyon, Toscano and Prosciutto de San Daniele (this was the only meat that was not simply superb). There was one pate on the platter as well, but we ordered the PATE PLATTER as well which came with DUCK & APPLE Terrine, CHICKEN SOUP Pate, a creamy DUCK LIVE PATE sprinkled with coarse salt and one of the most divine PATE DE CAMPAGNE ever (that was more like a terrine).

A cheese platter was also chosen and all the cheeses were delicious as well:
LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER(UK) a crumbly tasty cheddar
MONA Sheep&Cow from Wisconsin that had a great nutty taste
a shaved TETE de MOINES from Switzerland
PONT L'EVEQUE that I would have loved a bit more ripe
ROGUE CREAMERY CAVEMAN BLUE from Oregon that we all agreed with mild and divine with a tiny crystalline crunch in it

We started with a bottle of TAITTINGER Cuvee Prestige Non Vintage which was close to gone by the time the food came, but it was a great aperitif and would have been fine with the charcuterie and cheese as well, but we all agreed to move to red for the sake of the meat and had a K VINTNERS Syrah "Pheasant Vineyard" 2006 from the Wah Luke Valley in Walla Walla, Washington that was absolutely perfect. Not overpowering, but a big enough red to stand up to the meats.

Our next red was an EIEIO 2006 "Swine Wine" which is their entry level Pinot Noir from Oregon that was also full bodied, yet mild enough for the lighter appetizers we had. Speaking of appetizers, save one entree, that was all we ordered, and it was a great choice, because these plates are great to share and seem to offer up the best that Proof has.

AHI TARTARE with Hass Avocado, Nori Tempura, Wasabi Soy Emulsion CHILLED TOMATO Soup with Parmesan & Garlic Croutons, Torn Basil and Jerez Sherry Vinegar & Olive Oil comes in a yin-yang presentation of red and yellow tomato soups and is cream-less and superb. Not a gazpacho with chunks but loaded with bursting tomato flavor. ABALONE "3 Minute Ceviche" with Citrus, Jalapeno, Coriander & Avocado was also quite nice and a change on the regular ceviches around HEN of the WOODS QUICHE with Salad of Green Beans & Radish with Vin Cotto, also nice, but was really a good quiche which does little for me

We were starting to get crowded at the table and Max pulled out a small tray the end which had a slot for the wine bottle and allowed us much more space (a nice trick when you do order lots!).

CHESAPEAKE SOFT SHELL CRAB with English Cucumber & Sweet Chili Garlic Aioli was a superb preparation with a huge crab and great sauce. GRILLED Spanish OCTOPUS with Potato-Chickpea Salad, Capers, Smoked
Paprika, Roast Pepper Vinaigrette was another treat.

The dud dish of the appetizers was the SAUTEED BUFFALO SWEETBREADS which is prepared in the style of "buffalo wings" with Celery Leaf Salad, Roquefort and Smoked Bacon. The "sauce" was just too cloying for all of us and agreed the sweetbread itself needs to be treated more delicately.

At this point we moved to our last red, ALTO MONCAYO 2006 Campo de Borja GRANACHA which was a great wine as well. We have become so thrilled with the increase in quality Spanish wines here lately and I hope that Proof will increase its list in this department as they have such a great variety from so many countries!

Speaking of the wine, the glasses here tend to be heavy Italian (unnamed) crystal which I am not so fond of. I realize this is because of the massive amount of wine glasses and the need to avoid hand washing and breakage, but I miss my Schott or Riedel when drinking quality wines.

I really wanted to taste one entree and ordered the CRISPY DUCK & PORK CONFIT with Cassoulet of FLAGEOLET BEANS, Spinach, Lardons which suffered from extreme dryness. The confit had been cooked to death and the duck leg was just overdone. Luckily, the beans were moist and tasty and helped to alleviate the poor meat.

We ended up taking much of the meat home for our dog! and she adores it, especially the lardons!

We did order three veggie sides with this and they were all superb: SAUTEED RAPINI with Garlic, Chilies & Ginger was quite nice but none too exciting

GRILLED LOACL SCAPES with Shiro Miso were diving mini-garlic bulbs/stalks that I don't recall ever having before and we all agreed they were quite novel, tasty and worth the try.

The CRISPY CAULIFLOWER with Lemon Tahini was another divine creation. We all agreed--charcuterie, cheese,app's and sides are the way to go here.

We agreed to split a STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING which is Will's fave from back in the UK and it suffered a bit from a tuile that was obviously left somewhere humid for a long time. The CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PROFITEROLES with Chocolate Sorbet and Chocolate Sauce is a good choice for you profiterole lovers. I would have loved more cheese, but was so full, I had one bit and we headed home knowing that Proof has proven itself well.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Farewell to La Republica Dominicana-a decent Asian fusion find at BANA BISTRO (Paradisus Palma Real)

For our final night in Punta Cana at Paradisus Palma Real, Samuel insisted on eating in the room and having a babysitter; we quickly agreed and reserved a table at BANA BISTRO in the main complex, which is their Asian fusion spot. They also have two other Asian places in the same doorway which are teppanyaki and sushi restaurants, but we will have to return another time to try these.

BANA BISTRO has the feel of the Old Trader Vics, if you recall those. There were bamboo accents, large ceramic tiki glasses for water, hanging orange lanterns with "Asian" lettering and the like. Bana calls itself Asian fusion claiming the food to be Thai, Japanese and Chinese. Read on and you will get this gist of what this means, and while there were some wonderful dishes, the overall food quality is not really that superb.

Will & I had been suffering from the "Dominican Devil" for a couple of days. This was our affectionate term for Montezuma's revenge, although it is on a much less intense scale--your basic upset tummy with minimal runs--enough of that. So we were worried about what to order, but decided to risk it all and blow caution to he wind.

We started with glasses of the all-inclusive house white Sauvignon Blanc SARMIENTOS de TARAPACA 2007 from Chile, which needed to be more chilled. After we polished off the first small glass, our very attentive server Manuel brought over a full bottle which was much colder and worked great with the spicy first course I ordered. This wine is about as uneventful as one can expect, but it serves its purpose. The SPICY OCTOPUS SALAD was a bed of romaine and iceberg (the menu said Mesculun) with a nicely spicy CHILI GARLIC Dressing and lots of sliced octopus all over the top. I gave Will most of the octopus that had no dressing, and even on its own it was deliciously tasty.

Will chose the BBB (don't know it's 3 B's as 2 B's makes sense for Bana Bistro) Chef's Selection, which was really for two people, so I helped him: Triangular Pillow shaped SPRING ROLLS had little vegetable filling and a sweet and sour sauce. GINGER BBQ Ribs were of mediocre quality with a tasty sauce. SPICY CHICKEN WINGS were not that spicy, but the best item in the triad. A finger towel would have been welcome after the ribs and wings!

We ordered off the "extra charge" wine list and settled on a bottle LAN RESERVA from Rioja 2001 that was indeed a great choice at $55 from the Wine Spectator Awardee list (but all these wines do cost extra above the all-inclusive plan). It was smooth and got even better as it opened up. We split two entrees which were both quite good. From the Japanese list was the SEAFOOD MASALA (yup, Indian curry on the Japanese list!) which was shrimp, huge mussels (they are the largest I have ever seen anywhere here in the DR!), calamari with the requisite Chinese vegetable mix of celery and bamboo shoots with a "Japanese Curry Sauce" according the menu. The curry was Indian and actually quite delicious, so we poured it over the white rice with glee and gobbled it up. From the Thai section we took Manuel's suggestion for the BEEF FILET with BASIL & OYSTER SAUCE which was not as good, but had pretty decent meat save for one small piece of gristle. Kikkoman Salsa di Soya was delivered to the table, but we refrained.

For dessert we split a bowl of Lychee sorbet with (naturally canned) Lychee Nuts which was even more reminiscent of those old style Chinese places from the 70's. I must also add that the lighting at the restroom entrance was so awful that neither of us could see the little man in the top hat on the tiny panel to tell the difference between the hombres and senoras!

I must also say that while at Paradisus Palma Real, we really did enjoy the breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets that we tried with their huge varieties of local and American-style or International foods. There was always something to eat for everyone and much of it quite good, and while the wines were really mediocre, you can always pay for the better bottles if necessary. Even the taco-like crunchy Texas style chicken wrap we had at the poolside HYDRO GRILLE upon arrival had two yummy dipping sauces and was quite a good preparation. This was my first all-inclusive experience, and we came away quite satisfied with most of the food and would consider it again, however, I think our first love will still be cruises.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

moving around Punta Cana (Dom. Rep.) from the cautious CALETON Grill to somewhat pleasant AQUA at Paradisus Palma Real Reserve

After three nights in our luxurious villa we had gotten a bit bored with the rain and the menu at CALETON VILLAS which was the same in the Palapa on the beach, room service and the very fancy GRILL. We only went to the Caleton Grill on our last night because the manager offered us a complimentary meal due to our problems (you can real Samuel's travel journals to find out about those!). It was a beautiful setting with votives hanging and on the walls and tables placed far apart. Crisp linens, nice crystal (no beetles in them) and excellent service were a treat. Indeed, there were only two tables of 3 (us and the manager!).

We had complained previously about the problem getting Sam something other than the basic children's menu of pizza, chicken fingers, pasta, etc. So they asked us exactly what he wanted and they delivered to a tee. He had a salad of tomato, peppers, croutons, carrots, olives and cucumber (which was pickled here). His entree was Chicken Breast and some veggies and he was a real sport eating it all and then enjoying some tropical sorbet.

I had the FISH SOUP which was quite nice, but gets no awards and Will the CEVICHE which was also quite plain. Will opted for the CHIMICHURRI SKIRT STEAK which we had tasted the first night when we ordered it for Samuel from Room Service. It is a great piece of meat and probably the winning dish on the menu. My PORK CHOPS were way too overcooked and dry, but the sauce helped to mask that.

I had a superb CREME BRULEE Dominican Style (whatever that meant) which was one of the best desserts had on the island, and my notes got we can't recall what Will had.

We did indeed move to the PARADISUS PALMA REAL "Reserve" about 30 minutes to the north in the central zone of Bavaro here in Punta Cana the next day. It was a great move for Samuel loves the Kids Club, the evening shows and buffets and just having fun. We like it better, although this top of the line all-inclusive does have its issues (like trying to get a reservation at the specialty restaurants!). Last night we went to AQUA which is in the Reserve, a brand new exclusive all-suite section about 1/4 mile down the road from the main complex. AQUA is Mediterranean in style and clearly named for the very dim blue and almost hazy lighting throughout. The tables are mirror-topped and there are mirrors on the walls; I don't need to see myself when I am eating! The chairs are white leather and way to deep for normal people to be comfortable in without pillows, as are the banquettes.

We had their house BARON DE VALLS Spanish white--no vintage or varietal info on the bottle, and it was simply okay. I did ask for a glass of red with my entree, and it never came! The bread was like soft rocks and the breadsticks soggy, as they are throughout the resort; I gather due to the humidity (its like 80% every day). Samuel had a BOLOGNESE LASAGNA with RICOTTA that was indeed a superb pasta preparation, and asked me to make lasagna at home now!

I started with a SAUTEED BEAN SALAD with Olive Oil, Prosciutto Taco and Egg. I was not sure what to expect, and what I got was nothing like the description. This often happens here with the difficult language translation issues, but I would hope a high level resort of this type could get the message across in the menu. The dish was actually a bowl of scrambled eggs with cannoli beans, some chunks of ham (not prosciutto) and a large toasted crostini standing up....was this a taco? It was not bad, just not what I wanted, unless I had been at breakfast, or perhaps brunch.

Will went for the VEGETABLE SALAD with Sauteed SCALLOP in a Roasted Pine Nut Sauce which yielded up one tough scallop and a pile of marinated peppers.

I asked for a small portion of the TAGLIATELLE with GENOESE PESTO, ARTICHOKES and GRILLED SHRIMP and was immediately sorry I had not ordered this as an was superb. It seems they do get pasta right.

Will had the STEWED CHICKEN BREAST with Sauteed Portobello with Truffle Oil and Natural (does it come in unnatural)Yoghurt Sauce & Mint. The sauce was fine, but the chicken as dry as it gets. My ROAST VEAL on PROSCIUTTO with Grilled Vegetables and White Pepper Sauce again had a fine sauce and the meat fared better, but the piece of meat on the bottom was clearly not the prosicutto we know. It was more akin to thin Canadian Bacon. The vegetables consisted of three tiny slices of carrots and mashed potatoes.

We were tired and Sam was exhausted from a long day with his Kids Club and the heat, so we left after he had a quick bowl of Chocolate Ice Cream.

Tonight we are trying the fusion Asian Bistro in the main hotel....we pray to do better as everyone says it is superb.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

more clarification on CALETON Grill at CapCana in Punta Cana(DR)

I found my notes when I went to start packing to head home...they were in my pant's pocket from dinner the other night. I wanted to explain that CAPCANA is this monster complex at the extreme south end of the Punta Cana coastline...which takes about an hour plus to traverse from extreme south to north. We are now about midway up in Bavaro (at Paradisus Palma Real). Anyway, if you happen to be in Punta Cana(15 mins from Caleton) itself or maybe the Bavaro area (about 30mins) you might consider the Caleton Grill.

As I said, the manager was most courteous, he also explained new varied menus were week. I can only hope they improe the overall situation to make it more attractive.

The Grill is the nicest spot in the central complex and really quite elegant, and as I said, the service in the establishments here is generally QUITE good and very friendly.

At Caleton, I forgot to mention the excellent choice of 5 warm breads: onion, black, French and breadsticks...and a pepper (well, we were told that) that was raisin rolls. The bread came with butter, but at the Palapa at lunch it was served with oil/salt/pepper and parmesan which Sam adored and we preferred as well.

The amuse was the weirdest of all...a piece of square cheese sitting with a grape on top and a toothpick on it on a bed of fruit jelly. AMUSE-ing indeed.

All the presentations were quite beautiful, often with fried plaintain towers and such.

I completely omitted our wine choices as well. The white was a Don PEDRO SOUTOMAIOR Albarino from Spain. I did note the wine list spelled Rothschild as "Tohtschild!"

I think I said Samuel had chicken and I was off on that--he had a superb GRILLED RED SNAPPER, which is indeed the best local fish we have had regularly.

Again, Will's SKIRT STEAK CREOLE STYLE was a dream, althought the Chimichurri Sauce was more onion than we like (it IS better at Guantanamera in NYC!). It came with yummy mashed Sweet Potatoes. Mine again was the CHULETAS di CERDO, (over)grilled pork chop with BBQ SALSA which was quite fruity but saved the meat and a divine VEGETABLE TOWER of zucchini, mushroom, eggplant and more.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sivory's LA GOURMAND is sensational but secluded-Punta Cana, DR

Our villa here in CAP CANA is about as south as you can go on the entire resort coastline. South of here are sheer cliffs, no beaches and national park land. To the north stretches miles of sandy coastline loaded with the resort area all lumped into the "Punta Cana" region, but actually divided into a number of smaller local constituencies. The northernmost of these is a secluded area called Uvero Maya which is where the larger resorts of Dreams and Excellence are located. Almost one hour from the airport and about 65-75 minutes from our villa (at Caleton Villas), at the end of a dirt road laden with huge potholes filled with water and "making Will's knuckles white" bumps...we discovered SIVORY PUNTA CANA ( While it may seem daunting, this secluded but elegant resort of only 55 rooms boast three restaurants which are open to the public (if you wish to make the trek) and we were truly lucky enough to be invited for the best meal we have had on this island (yes, the food and service seems to be improving daily now!).

The French/Continental/American/Caribbean cuisine of LE GOURMAND offers many choices a huge wine cellar of thousands and thousands and superb top notch service. Yesterday was the hottest and most humid day we have had so fare (about 93 degrees with like 80% humidity making it feel like way over 100!), so as we sat down we mentioned to our host that the a/c seemed to be malfunctioning. Jose, the hotel manager, immediately moved us downstairs to the cool and just as comfy second restaurant, offering us a choice of the GOURMAND menu from upstairs, or the La VERANDA menu from downstairs. (They also have an Asian fusion dining option).

From the start we were excited by the menu and justifiably so. An amuse of Seared TUNA on RICE & SESAME came first, followed by a choice of five breads (yummy softish crostini breadsticks with sesame seeds and salt, pumpernickel, pretzel shaped rolls, baguettes and more). Olive oil was poured and we were told the oil changes daily from Italian to Greek to Spanish to Lebanese...

Will chose the most interesting HUEVO POCHE en SECO, a dried breaded poached egg atop a confit of Spinach & Leeks with Red Pepper Coulis, Dill Cloud and Pesto was divine. I opted for the MANZANA y FOIE, a simple but superbly tasty salad of Romaine with Caramelized Apple & Foie Gras Shavings and was thrilled to finally be getting so vegetable input (lunches with pizza are becoming a bit too regular!).

The wine recommended by the sommelier/manager was a FRONTERA SAUVIGNON BLANC from Chile (founded by Concha y Toro) and was intense in apple, making it a sublime pairing for my salad as well as the other dishes. He later brought an excellent house red, SARDASOL (the same producer as we had the previous evening) 2001 CRIANZA made from Tempranillo coming from Navarro in Spain. These inexpensive wines proved that one can get a good deal for under $30 in this resort area and not go home broke.

The entrees were even better with our host enjoying a FILET with FOIE GRAS, Will opting for the LUBINA a la PLANCHA, a Grilled Sea Bass (not local, but top quality) with Creamy Pumpkin Risotto, Crunchy Roasted Garlic (Will adored this) and Braised Lettuce. Everywhere we went the servers try to push to local lobster, but us folks who know Maine lobsters often feel it is not worth the $40+ price of the plate. I WAS WRONG with the LANGOSTA AIOLI, a moist and quite large local Lobster Tail with Smooth Garlic Foam and a cylinder of tasty Rose Puree Zucchini Quenelle.

The desserts went from novel to excellent. Samuel would have adored the QUESO y KETCHUP which was a Raisin & Herb tuile with candied cherry tomato all stuffed with homemade Ketchup Ice Cream. It was like a cheesecake and ketchup combo that we agreed needed a bit of getting used to. The COCONUT MOUSSE was tasty rich and creamy and my PLATO de FRESA was a trio combination of Butter-Balsamic Caramel marinated strawberries with a shot glass of Strawberry Gelatin Granita and a Strawberry Mousse that was rich and divine, but not too large to overfill.

Chocolate Truffle Nut Crunch candies and Fruit Gelee came to finish off an elegant and superb meal that I would easily traverse the awful road for over and over!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

JELLYFISH is just the best (in Bavaro, near Punta Cana, Dom.Rep.)

JELLYFISH (tel.809-840-7684 or 809-868-3040--reservations recommended) just north of Punta Cana and Bavaro Beach is down a long, bumpy and winding dirt road just behind the Palma Real Shopping Center (a very chic one with the places we avoid like Hard Rock Cafe and Tony Roma's!). Once you get there you pass a small fish pond, three Amazon parrots (which Samuel loved) and sit in a double decked open round wooden structure that indeed does look like a jellyfish when the outside flaps are lowered should it begin to rain (which it did as we finished our meal).

The service is pretty good and our server Franklin was super friendly and helpful, but we did have to ask for our water 3 or 4 times. The rattan furniture has white cushions and is most comfortable with matching tables of rattan with glass tops and rattan woven mats on top. The beach is right there and the sea just steps beyond. Should you decide to go for lunch (and agree to continue ordering food and drinks in the afternoon) you can occupy one of the large 2-storey "cabanas" which are really just wooden structures with a sundeck on top with cushions to lay on and a shaded space underneath for avoiding the sun with some furniture to sit and eat and drink at as you loll away the afternoon. Last night a strong breeze made it the most comfortable evening so far since our arrival. We have tended to try and eat indoors with the humidity and bugs, but last night was just a pleasure to be outside. There was a big electrical storm and the power went out a couple of times, but only for a split second.

Be sure to listen to your server, as the fish and seafood comes right from the fishing boats that pull up on shore daily and they DO know what is best and freshest. If you have kids, bring them, as they will love the animals, the beach and there is a decent kids menu. Samuel had the (guess what?) Chicken Fingers and Fries and a Baskin Robbins cup of VERY STRAWBERRY Ice Cream for Dessert. I did wish they had fish sticks, as those do seem to be so freshly made here with REAL FISH, rather than the processed stuff we get frozen at home!

We ordered a bottle of SARDA SOL Rosado(Rose) 2007 from Navarro in Spain, but the server said the BLANCO was drier, and he was right. It was a tasty blend of Chardonnay & Viura which went well with our varied fresh fish dishes. Will and I chose the same starter, SEAFOOD SALAD, whcih for like $10 or $12 was a monstrous bowl full of Shrimo, LObster, Conch, Octopus, Calamari and fresh Fish with local tasty peppers, onions all in a yummy CORIANDER & LEMON DRESSING. You may know that in the Latin countries, lemon really means LIME...which I liked even better. Some balsamic glazed on the bowl's edge added flavor to a superb dish that you knew had just been fished out that morning.

For main courses I chose the LANGOUSTINES with CAVA Sauce which were 6 whole (or 12 halves) of 6 inch plus long langoustines (those somewhere between shrimp and lobster crustaceans that are so common here). The meat from each 1/2 was about 4 inches and the sauce was a medium white sauce that had tons of flavor and superb seasonings. The mixed
vegetables on the side were all excellent (eggplant/zucchini/carrots/peppers) but was not served warm.

Will had the RED SNAPPER DOMINICAN STYLE which Franklin said was a 2 pound whole fish filleted and served with a local sauce It was huge, and while filleted, did have some small bones. Will adored the sauce and gobbled up every last bite leaving most of his sides of rice and Garlic Potatoes, as these too, were not served very warm. There was still plenty to eat and we did have the best meal so far on the island at this little spot which was a true Dominican seafood treat.

One small comment is that you should BRING CASH (with local or US$) as despite what they tell you, credit cards are not accepted (unless the machine is working and it apparently rarely does work!). They got one of the taxi drivers to drive me to the Palma Real Mall where there was an ATM, and there was no charge for this, but it did take 20 minutes round trip due to the dirt road! Also, if you are staying nearby and DON'T have a rental car, you can get a free ride home by one of the taxi drivers provided by Jellyfish! If you are at Paradisus Palma Real or the Barcelo Bavaro, just walk 10 minutes up or down the beach and avoid the road!


Saturday, July 18, 2009

packing off to Punta Cana(Dominican Rep.) for FAITH at FARALLON

Yesterday was a long day with the 3-1/2 hour drive to the eastern end of Hispaniola and the island's major resort area of Punta Cana. We have ensconced ourselves at the southernmost end of Punta Cana, literally at the end of the road in the reasonably new resort area called Cap Cana. Started about 4-5 years ago the area boasts what is expected to be the largest marina in the Caribbean facing the straits between the DR and Puerto Rico to the east (apparently a huge sport fishing area). He marina has many accommodations, shops and dining spots and is about 5-10 minutes north of us at the entrance to the thousands of acres complex. There are several golf courses for those inclined, a golf club with condo-like hotel, villas and bungalows; our exclusive destination the Villas at Caleton which number only 16, each with private pool, butler and literally thousands of square feet per villa (I believe Will is giving an extensive description in his "Samuel's travel diaries..."

After we arrived we ordered Samuel a superbly delicious hangar steak with a chimichurri sauce that was okay and not nearly as good as that made by our friend Mario in Guantanamera in NYC (this had lots of onion and cilantro leaves whole and much less garlic---Samuel did not like the leafy texture). After the babysitter arrived, Will and I headed up the steep limestone cliffs behind the villas (by car, not on foot!) to a beautiful location overseeing the entire region's twinkling lights below. This portion of CapCana has been chosen by the Trump folks for a huge hotel/condo/villa complex which has been temporarily put on hold for now due to the economic downtown (as has the entire Ritz-Carlton project planned for CapCana as well!). Anyway, the Trump folks do have FAITH at FARALLON (the name of the complex) which is a very beautiful dining spot that is elegant, yet casual with great views (maybe better for lunch) and decent to excellent food.

There was one waiter who spoke English (Italian, Spanish and a bit of French), so we were okay and the menu is multi-lingual as well. As we sat down small grappa glasses of lemon-passion fruit granita were brought out and we both managed to get the ices all over us as the glasses were not the right type to use for ices....they brought out different glasses, but the results were the same, so I waited until mine was melted to try and enjoy it.

At this point Will spotted a large dead bug (ant?) in my elegant Schott crystal wine glass OOPS! We did order a bottle of wine, but the glass was quickly replaced. The wine list listed CORVO BLANCO 2006 from Sicily as an Albarino (a Spanish varietal) which it is not; it is actually a Grecianico-Insolia blend and a decent buy at $32 to boot considering the prices we have been paying for wine in the capital. Our second wine was an even tastier CLOUDY BAY 2005 CHARDONNAY from New Zealand with the slightest hint of oak and lots of flavor for the fish and chicken we had.

The bread came with a small plate of herbed butter for each of us, but never a we just dipped the roll into the butter, which was luckily soft. We settled in enjoying the space with a large pool outside the window, wondering what it was for and the large central living room, giant potted palms and sliding glass doors to the kitchen beyond.

We both ordered the SOFT SHELL TEMPURA ROLL for an amazing $10 which was delish, but lacked more than a miniscule bite of crab in each slice. It was billed as with avocado and tobiko, and we wondered where that was wonder it was $10!

Will had a nice FILETE ENROLLADO de POLLO en Salsa MEUNIER which had little shrimp filling, but was a moist chicken roulade with vegetables, and according to the menu "perfumed with truffle oil" which it barely was, I guess. My MEROT MURAT was an excellent piece of Grouper Filet sauteed with French mushrooms (were they really from France?), Artichokes and a very nice light Hollandaise Sauce (although I would not call it Hollandaise).

We decided to split a dessert called "FAITH" which was Pineapple Flambeed with Vanilla Ice Cream and a yummy caramel sauce..paid the bill and headed back down to our villa for bed.

With Faith was pretty and the food was not bad and too expensive, I hope we can do better while in CapCana for five days...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Santo Domingo dining-LA BRICIOLA s better than most

For our final dinner here in the city we headed to an Italian spot highly recommended by guidebooks and our concierge alike. LA BRICIOLA ( is located across from then oldest cathedral in the New World at Arzobispo Merino 152 and just a block from the central Parque Colon, a hub of activity at night where Samuel got a balloon hat replete with doggie balloon atop and a matching balloon sword all for 30 pesos (under $1).

We were the only folks to arrive at 7pm and we should be used to this as the locals don't flow in until 830-9pm at the earliest. The setting was quite beautiful with linen cloths, crystal and silver atop tables on a covered raised mezzanine surrounding a large open courtyard. The lighting lit the tropical foliage as we sat amongst the 16th century limestone/coral pillars. Purse holders were brought and attached to the table corners for my camera bag and Samuel's "toy/goodie/crayon/etc" bag that we always bring to restaurants to keep him busy while waiting.

Samuel got his requisite 7-UP and we a bottle of FALANGHINA del TABURNO 2007 with citrus overtones that was excellent with the seafood starters. Sam agreed to a 1/2 portion of Insalata CARPESE y Prosciutto di Parma and ate all the tomatoes, seemed to love the salty ham, but not the mozzarella. We finished it off.

An amuse arrived first of BOLLITOS, little meatballs breaded and deep fried which we each got two of and all agreed were superb, even Samuel.

CARPACCIO FIORETTO was Swordfish with Passion Fruit & Cherry Tomato Reduction which was very good, but Will fared much better with the CARPACCIO ATLANTICO di PULPO (Octopus) with Capers and ONION REDUCTION which offered up superb fish and sauce combined.

Samuel had the (yes again) SPAGHETTINI PECORINO, just the pasta with tomato sauce and cheese...and Will went a bit more advanced with FARFALLE in GAMBETTA, a pretty boring pasta and tomato sauce dish with several shrimp and some bacon(even less). I fared well with a CIGLIO al GUAZZETTO di VONGOLE, a great fillet of Red Snapper with albeit only 3 clams in a white wine and basil sauce. Some nice veggies came on the side with some mashed potatoes drowning in olive oil.

Overall, the seafood and non-pasta dishes seem to excel....and the setting is great, but be wary of some of the highest prices in the area. Each night we are shocked to see them rise to about $165 for the three of us with just one bottle of wine...Oh well, we are on vacation!

the Creole cuisine is much better at MESON de BARI (Santo Domingo)

Today's lunch was a bit better, thought still not a touch on PATE e we headed for the Creole Cuisine of MESON de BARI at Hostos 32 in another magnificent 16th century structure (aren't they all here!).

Samuel ordered the BASTONCITOS de PESCADO which were moist pieces of fresh fish in a fried batter that would shame an American Fish Stick any day. He gobbled up the fries and most of the fish with his daily Sprite (or 7-UP). I opted for the specialty of the house, CANGREJO QUISADO, a shredded crab stew that was quite tasty (watch out for bones) and even better with the side of Fried Plantains which I used as a server for the stew,

Will had a delish CAMARONES ala CRIOLLA or shrimp creole style also with the plantains. It was a nice lunch and there were (for a change) menus in English so we knew what we were getting. I stupidly forgot my Latin phrase book at home, but these things so rarely help as each country has such different names for the same dishes anyway!

more tomorrow....because tonight;s dinner was a success!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

La RESIDENCE rates okay for formal dining in the Dominican Rep

Last night's dinner was here in our hotel the historic NICHOLAS de OVANDO in the Colonial Zone of downtown Santo Domingo. La Residence has long been the top French place around with a master chef from France, Denis Schetrit, who was nowhere in sight all evening. Actually nobody was in sight all evening as we chose to dine indoors where it was air conditioned. About 6 tables were occupied outside and one in each of the indoor rooms, not so hot for the top place in town, eh?

As we sat down, we were treated to digital Beatles and pretty awful (but at least not loud) music all evening. We ordered a bottle of CASILLERO del DIABOLO Sauvignon Blanc '08, the same I had enjoyed at lunch and pondered our choices. The food is traditional French with a local flair, so we chose the dishes that were less French and more local.

An amuse arrived of TUNA TARTARE and en EGGPLANT CAVIAR with tomato concasse on top. The tuna was dry and the eggplant was tasty. My CHILED CREAM of ZUCCHINI Soup was flavored with Fresh Coriander, Coconut and a milk foam with Poppy Seeds which may very well have been the hit of the evening. Will ordered the TUNA TARTARE with SANTIAGO Peppers and Guacamole which he thought was pretty awful overall. We ordered a decent bottle of red (the wine is SO EXPENSIVE here that a $10 bottle at home would be $60 here....and that's a huge markup. The taxes are so high that I just balk at the prices) from Spain, MARQUES de la CONCORDIA 2005 Crianza from Rioja that was quite nice--in a store at home it might be $15, and was over $60 here! It was great with our entrees. Mine was a FILET of POULTRY AJI CUBANILLA with Rice and Dominican Beans which were red and in a runny sauce, unlike the Cuban black beans we so often get with rice. The BEANS were the highlight of the meal. Will had the ROASTED FILET of PORK enhanced with Colombo Spices, and a white Sweet Potato flavored with pineapple.

Desserts were not winners either with my CREPES coming out more like thick blintzes and a Strawberry Filling with a yummy marmalade on the side. Will had the MILLES FEUILLES con Guineaos which was really a wafer and not a puff pastry with bananas and Rum Raisin Ice Cream, so much for the French pastry being authentic.

The price was high and the overall dining experience was elegant, but the food was not nearly as good as out lunch at PATE e we seek better luck next time here in the capital.

Santo Domingo dining:PATA e PALO places first

We learned yesterday that there are many fine dining spots nearer our hotel here in Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) which is in truly ancient (for the Western hemisphere) Zona Colonial. We met the niece of our dear friend Maria who is a local and suggested PATA E PALO, which also everyone else recommended and every book lists as superb. It was a big hit across the board.

Pata e Palo is located on the Plaza Espana, the huge open square facing the Alcazar (or viceroy's palace built by Columbus' son) at La Atarazana 21. Pata e Palo means "Peg Leg" and is named for its founder the Dutch buccaneer who established the first bistro ever in the New World in this same building which dates to the mid-1500's. The staff wear pirate-like bandanas and many speak English with a menu in several languages making it an easier spot for those who don't speak Spanish. While listed in guides as "inexpensive," for locals the prices are high with lunch entrees starting at $15 and going way up from there.

Samuel experimented with the GNOQUIS de YUCA which were rich delightful Yucca Gnocchi and with a tomato sauce as opposed to the heavier cream sauce they usually come with (again, a willingness to accommodate los ninos!). He adored them along with his traditional Sprite.

Will opted for a light starter which was quite large and tasty SALMON FRESCO, smoked salmon with Mustard, Capers, Arugala and Citrus Vinaigrette. I had a superb CAMARONES al COCO CURRY, one of the signature dishes featuring about 8 large tiger shrimp, a light and tasty (and not sweet) curry sauce with a hint of coconut and a mound of fluffy white rice with some haricots verts and those long Asian mini corn cobs (what are they called?). A glass a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc from Casillero del Diabolo (Chile) worked perfectly. Our hostess ordered the MERO ORIENTAL which was a huge banana leaf like bowl filled with a fish stew made mostly from Sea Bass.

As it is every day, it was a 90 degree plus afternoon, and we were quite full so we skipped dessert and went for a super cappuccino which came with a soft mini-macaroon on the side with a depressed center filled with a dab of liquefied chocolate that was simply perfect.

I highly recommend PATA e PALO and am sure it is heaving at dinnertime (which here is after 9pm!), so do reserve if you plan to go here as it is very popular. You can also dine outside if it is not too hot and enjoy the view of the 2-storey Alcazar and city walls, which is lit up at night for even more effect. On Fridays & Saturdays at 9PM there is also a costumed dance presentation on the Plaza for free! We may head back there tonight for that.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ADRIAN TROPICAL-Dominican food with little flair (Santo Domingo,Dominican Rep)

We arrived here this afternoon and decided to hit the city's most famous local eatery ADRIAN TROPICAL located at Avenida George Washington (or the Malecon), the unseemly promenade along the sea where most of the gigantic hotels are located, Samuel loved spotting the crabs along the small beach, the fish in the tank in the lobby and then watching the Amazon Parrot in the cage outside. The restaurant is on three levels overlooking the sea with indoor (air conditioned) and outdoor (muggy, hot) seating. We chose the top level outside near the parrot.

It was a tough ordeal for us as many folks don't speak a word of English here, and we tried to get Samuel to assist. To start we got him a lemonade and we tried to order a bottle of wine. The server said there was no wine list, just 6 wines, but we had no clue what the price was. We finally managed to We all agreed (even Sam) that these were a treat.

Will and I had always adored MOFONGO, the national dish of Puerto Rico, and it is a mainstay of the local cuisine here as well, but very different. While in PR, the mofongo comes with the plantains plastered against the wooden "bowl" or crock with meat or fish stew within, here there is only the plantain. It does have a wonderful CHICHARON crunch from the pork cracklings in the mix and can be ordered plain or with meat. The meat comes in a small bowl which you can add to the mix....I think I spotted several unknown organs in the bowl! I thought it was tasty, but must agree with Will, it is not a touch on the mofongo we know from Puerto Rico.

We paid, headed back to our hotel in the historical center (Zona Colonial) where we hope we can find better dining tomorrow.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

KEMBLE PARK TAVERN with the kids is a real deal

One of the closest places to our home for dining which is very family friendly is KEMBLE PARK Tavern on MacArthur Blvd. in the Palisades ( and I am surprised we did not know about the amazing deals they have on Sundays. Leave it to our friend, Maria, the deal-meister, to ask us out with their family for the KIDS EAT FREE Sundays where an extremely cute magician also goes from table to table doing tricks!! The kids loved the entertainment and made everything on their plates disappear as well: Chicken Fingers, Fries, Peas & Carrots, Goldfish, a drink and dessert are included in the $6.95 kids meal on weekdays and Saturday, which is free on Sundays!!

We had a superb server named Susan who was all wonderful personality and charm. She made everything happen and more. Our wine was a yummy TORRONTES Santa Julia "Organico" 208 Mendoza that was crisp and clean. It was great with my GRILLED WINGS starter a large plate of wings all separated into single pieces and laying on thin elongated cucumber slices with a Horseradish Dijon Mustard Sauce. The Mini CRABCAKE SLIDERS are very tasty, but offer up way to much bread on the brioche buns. GAZPACHO with Shrimp was thin and lame, so Susan immediately removed the charges for this from the bill!

Main courses included a tasty Seared GROUPER with Crabmeat, Edamame Succotash as well as a FILET & SALAD that was less expensive than the huge filet and offered up a nice piece of meat with salad, blue cheese and an array of dressings. My PORK PORTERHOUSE was an odd and humongous cut of meat with roasted potatoes and a yummy Chimichurri Sauce with Sauteed Spinach. I had a tasty glass of Petite Sirah with it and we all went home well entertained and much less out of pocket than ever before!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

table 21 is tops at VOLT (a veritable feast in Frederick,MD)

On Saturday night four of us trekked the 50 minute ride to downtown Frederick to revisit VOLT Restaurant ( where we had a truly spectacular meal last April under the guidance of Chef Bryan Voltaggio. We knew we wanted to return to the now famous "TABLE 21" which is a stainless steel table set facing the center of the kitchen and accommodates 4 people ever so comfortably in superb armchairs. There are other multi-course tasting menus available for other size groups in the kitchen as well, but table 21 is 21 courses for 4 people and only served once nightly and twice on Saturday (5:30pm & 8:30pm). We arrived at 8:20pm and it seems the folks before us ate pretty fast as the table was ready vacant. We actually stayed until around 12:15 am, so if you like to dine leisurely and want a Saturday-go at 8:30pm! FYI, the menu without wines is $121.00 per person, and as Will and I agree, at 1/2 of what Per Se charges, this may not have the view of Central Park, but it does have a view of the handsome Bryan Voltaggio and offers food that at times is superior to Per Se!

1)CHOCOLATE CAKE FRANGELICO, ABSOLUT CITRON, CO2 is a martini-glass dusted with lemon that has been dehydrated for 2 days and then sugar. The drink is Egg White, lemon juice, Absolut Citron and Frangelico and has a sweetness that I am not a big fan of, but it worked with the lemon tartness. Personally, I would have omitted the Frangelico, but it is a fun starter and gets you in the mood.

2)PROSCIUTTO CHIPS are dehydrated and served with a warm foam of POTATO DIP with's salty and divine and crunchy and everything you want in a snack.

3)SHIITAKE Chili Oil, Pine Nut is a ravioli shaped crispy shiitake with a sabayon of Pine Nuts but really has a feel of a poached egg that bursts in your mouth with the interior exploding. It is not a chemical-type reaction, but truly natural and totally a blast of flavor.

By this point we had ordered our first wine, GRUET BRUT, a sparkling one from New Mexico that is a fine wine to go with the various intense tastes of the different courses.

4)YELLOW FIN TUNA Tartare, Soy Air, is wrapped in Avocado and sprinkled with different seasonings called FIVE FLAVORS: Ginger Salt, Dehydrated Caracara Orange, Smoked Kosher Salt, Chinese 5 Spice and finally Wasabi Tobiko. Each bite of the cylindrical roll cut into 5 sections had a completely different taste, some more prominent, others harder to decipher (as you may guess).

5)BEET FOIE GRAS, Caracara Orange was a dish we had on our last visit and one we shall always remember as it has in a way become a signature of Chef Voltaggio-The macaroon is made of beet and filled with foie gras and sprinkled with an orange powder. It is a one bite masterpiece that melts in your mouth with a bit of crunch and intense flavor from the macaroon.

6)COMPRESSED MELON, SALMON ROE was another of these sous-vide style chemical reactions one gets from certain foods and here the melon was compressed to a small block and served with Salmon Roe over a Vanilla Sauce. The texture was most interesting, quite akin to tofu, but the melon taste was clear and apparent.

Neil Dundee is the sommelier at Volt and wowed us last time with two wines that I ended up buying a case of each, and still keep recommending. This trip he recommended a MISCHIEF & MAYHEM 2005 Burgundy clearly aimed at the US market by name, but a very minerally French style Chardonnay from Michel & Michelle. Our red that followed was a SPRING VALLEY 2006 MERLOT "Uriah" from Walla Walla, Washington that we all agreed was quite superb, but a bit pricey. And kudos for the wonderful Riedel crystal!

7)CHICHARRON was a chewy pork rind surrounded a la cotton candy by SPUN SUGAR with a dash of CURRY SALT. It was tasty, but quite chewy, and while I loved the curry salt and all the flavors worked, it was not my favorite course of the meal. Indeed, I can't really say if there was a favorite, perhaps just one here or there that did not live up to the supremely high standards of the others.

Table 21 generally does not get bread, but towards the start of the meal, one if use felt the need, so we got the standard yummy breadsticks served at all the other tables along with wafers, which kind of reminded of those at communion with more flavor and loads of crunch!

8)CHICKEN WING Point Reyes Blue Cheese & Celery Coulis with Piquillo Pepper is a Play on Buffalo Chicken Wings and a fun dish we all had nothing but praise for,

9)STRIPES BASS with Summer Squash, Carrot Tarragon Vinaigrette and Quinoa was a pure dish that indulged the delicious flavors of the fish itself.

10)ARTIC CHAR comes with FARO RISOTTO and Caramelized FENNEL in Chorizo Vinaigrette and a gelee like Caracara Orange Pudding. I adore char and this dish was no exception. Add the creamy novel risotto and you have a HUGE HIT.

11)CHERRY GLEN GOAT CHEESE RAVIOLI with Sweet Corn Puree and Foam, Fava Beans and Chanterelle Mushrooms had superb mini-ravioli made from the excellent cheese from nearby Boyds, MD.

You might think we were full by now, but realize that each of these dishes had an average of three bites, although some were up to 5....ok, so we did have to slow down, but not for a while yet.

12)SWEETBREADS were in a cube in crisp tempura with flavors of Picata (Calamata Olive Puree, Meyer Lemon Jam, Golden Raisins, Veal Jus, Caper Powder & Parsley Powder). One of us did not eat Sweetbreads and within minutes an alternate dish was not only created, but delivered before we had finished ours. It was a MAITAKE TEMPURA MUSHROOM with the same Picata Flavorings and interestingly enough, the mushroom in this style came out with perhaps a different taste then the sweetbread, but truly the same texture!

This was another of our favorite dishes with so many ways to combine the various ingredients.

13)FOIE GRAS TORCHON, Medjool Dates Puree, Grated Pistachio and Pickled Bing Cherries with Orange Gastrique made this foie gras easily beat that at Per Se. Need I say more.

14)Braised LONGENECKER FARM RABBIT, Cannellini Beans Puree, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Parsley, Caramelized Garlic and Thumbelina Carrots made this another super dish, even though I always love rabbit.

I made my first voyage to the men's at this point, and still can't get used to the sliding door. Luckily a handsome gentleman did the sliding for me (at least on the way in).

15)IBERICO CROSS PARK, Fried White Chicory, Moustarda, Peppercress was trio of treats: a rib, a pate and head cheese all of which were divinely assembled and served. By the way, all the plates are simultaneously placed in front of us by two folks (we liked the very young handsome gentleman best!) and often by the chef himself and then each one completely described. The plates are all fine china and large white dishes, with not one having a bowl that you lose the silverware in!

16)LAMB MERGUEZ, Madras Curry and Orient Express Eggplant was a loin also with yogurt and chick pea puree. It was a wonderful Eastern version of a dish that could easily hit the main courses (well, maybe it does!). By now we were totally enjoying the excellent Merlot as well.

17)PINELAND FARM BEEF STRIP LOIN, Yukon Gold Potato Puree, Roasted Pepper had in addition a Wild Ramp Puree, Calamata Olive Puree, Golden Raisin Puree and Leeks and Chanterelles. Again you could dip a small bite of the loin into one of more of the purees to obtain different flavors, accents and combinations. What fun!

18)The cheese course outright beat Per Se by a million miles: MIDNIGHT MOON (Cypress Grove, CA) goat in a parmesan style came with Strawberry, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream and Ruby Beets in 6% Balsamic. An excellent combination and a superb and novel cheese to boot that offered up flavor, contrast and impressed us all.

19)SOUR CHERRY CHOCOLATE was a small warm chocolate cake, Sour Cherry Ice Cream, Goat Cheese & Chocolate Mousse and Chocolate Tuile. I told Chef Bryan that I am not a chocolate nut, but that this dish and presentation was splendiferous. I think I sent him into a mini panic as he quickly went to work across the kitchen.

20)When the next course came, I found out why. Everyone else got TEXTURES of CHOCOLATE, Mint which was a long Flexible Chocolate Ganache, Mint Ice Cream and Pudding. This was actually on the last tasting menu we had and I recall substituting then as well. Chef Bryan quickly prepared for me a VACHERIN or Meringue with STRAWBERRY Sorbet, Creme Fraiche Ice Cream, Wild Blueberry Ice Cream and Compote, Raspberry Pate a Fruit and assembled it with the vacherin as a bridge over the sorbets and sauces....I loved it!

21)The MIGNARDISES were Red Pepper Pate a Fruits (which I loved for their mini bite), Madeleines & Hazelnut Macaroons. We noshed a bit, schmoozed a bit, said our goodbyes and left with mini-Lemon Poppyseed cakes for later...something to remember VOLT the next day...and we did. We will never forget TABLE 21 and know that it may very well be our favorite table in the world!

Monday, July 06, 2009

back to BLACKSALT and it's even better

Last night we returned to our neighborhood haunt BLACKSALT as it's been over a year ( Blacksalt (on MacArthur Blvd in the Palisades) just 3 minutes from our house is easily one of the top seafood places in town and easily tops in the neighborhood for just about anything (ok, so Makoto is across the street, but that gets boring).

We started with a bottle of superb DAEDALUS Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley in Oregon listed on the bottle as "circa" 2007; what is that? It was a great wine to have with our little plate of MARINATED WHITE ANCHOVIES (from Greece) with Fried Eggplant Salsa Verde that just melted in our mouths. The breads and Calamata olive/oil dip came and we could not resist again.

We went through the dishes and it was not easy to decide as there were so many excellent fish choices. Will and I naturally started with the Maryland SOFT SHELL CRABS with Tasso Ham, Roasted Peppers, Tomatillos and Cilantro that turned out to be huge portions with a super combination of ingredients for flavor and taste. The SMOKED BLUEFISH Crostini was a large portion as well piled high with delicious "pate," spiced pecan, organic radish and Frisee.

We switched to a CHATEAUNEUF du PAPE Clos LA ROQUETE 2007 that was also divine and seemed to be the hit of the evening...especially at its low price! Our third and last wine was recommended by the very cute sommelier and was a LUGORE VERMENTINO 2007 from Sardinia that was much more expensive, tasty and superb, but actually not as good as our first two wines.

The entrees were varied and all were excellent. North Atlantic Grey TILEFISH came with Sweet Corn, Fava Beans, Shitake Mushrooms and Tarragon. Wild Alaskan HALIBUT was a pure snow white treat with Spring Vegetables, a tasty Local Herb PESTO Crust and Fried Quail Egg for perfection in flavor. Wild Alaskan King SALMON was served with Red Quinoa, Local Squash, English Peas, Mint & Pine Nuts. My Wood Grilled Icelandic Arctic CHAR was in a slightly spicy MOLE VERDE with Sweet Plaintains and several small cubes of Citrus Braised PORK BELLY for added taste. The sauce was also slightly thick and rich with pumpkin seeds (pepita) which were apparently cooked in duck fat for even more flavor). These superb fishes were all a treat in their own ways and the ingredients used to surround them only added to the excitement. Again, my only complaint is the shape of some of the deeper dishes that force the utensils to fall into the sauce! COME ON CHEFS!

Desserts could not be passed up from Pastry Chef Susan Wallace which included a KEY LIME PIE with Blueberry compote (will had them hold the whipped cream) and sesame seed tuile, a trio of CREME BRULEES: Butterscotch, White Chocolate Raspberry, and Milk Chocolate-Hazelnut. Finally my CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER CRUNCH CAKE with Caramelized Bananas and Peanut Brittle was so rich, I shared it with the table after three small bites, even though I loved it.

All in all, another great night out in DC!

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Long Island's LA MARMITE is lovely

Last night my sister threw a surprise party for her husband and we were all pretty impressed with the quality of the food and especially the service at LA MARMITE (www.LaMarmite in Williston Park, NY about 30 minutes east of Manhattan in no traffic. It specializes in French and Northern Italian cuisine with a true French provincial decor feel in a country home, and totally family run.

As we arrived we were treated to many hor's d'oevres from smoked salmon, Pork Shumai Dumplings, crispy Potato Pancakes with Applesauce, Beef Teriyaki and a divine DUCK Sausage en croute with Bordelaise sauce. The three duds were the Scallops (which were sometimes sandy!) in an excellent Whole Grain Mustard Sauce, the dry Chicken Teriyaki and the puffy pastry Gougeres that just could not impress us after the previous night's magnificent ones with Mornay sauce!

The wines were all quite good and I was impressed with the crisp dry taste and lack of floral intensity in the DUE TORRE PINOT GRIGIO, a wine I would serve all summer at home.

The sit down dinner was four courses with a choice of decent FRIED CALAMARI, Prosciutto & Melon that got raves, a rich SEAFOD CREPE in even richer cream sauce and my TOWER of Vegetables made up of portobello, eggplant, zucchini, marinated peppers with a rosemary spike in a vinaigrette that was simply perfect. It was just HUGE as
were most of the portions. A choice of house or Caesar salad followed and I must admit the large crunchy homemade croutons in the Caesar were impressive. The entrees also impressed with superb quality (Will said it was the best he ever had) DUCK a L'ORANGE or DUCK au POIVRE in a rich but not too intense creamy pepper sauce, both served with Green Beans and Wild Rice Pilaf. Each person got a 1/2 of a huge duck that was loaded with meat and only a bit of fat here and there under the crispy tasty skin. SALMON was not chosen at our table, but raves came for the other choices with the RACK of LAMB in Mustard and Breadcrumb crust seeming coming in second to the duck.

Desserts are a presentation here and again huge portions abound...I was stuffed, so opted for the FRUIT & CUSTARD tart and ate the fruit, a bit of the tasty pastry and some of the choux cream. A big hit was the whipped cream endowed ST HONORE a gigantic cake.tart of puff pastry with cream laded with profiteroles on top also loaded with cream! Tiramisu, Chocolate Mousse, Flan and more were all rolled in on a huge cart as everyone indulged and headed home. Boy did we eat too much this weekend!

Friday, July 03, 2009

NYC's pre-eminent PER SE is near perfection even for the price

After a 24-hour delay, we finally made it to NYC's now rated #1 dining spot, PER SE. Open for almost two years, it is the east coast home of uber chef Thomas Keller (of French Laundry fame), but he apparently is not in the kitchen too much these days. Well, no matter, because everything was handled perfectly without a flaw, from our first call to the restaurant while being delayed flying to NY. After our 5-hour delay, we gave up making it there Thursday, and the staff was extremely helpful in fitting us in the next night; I gather because they are not fully committed this holiday weekend. Indeed, there was an empty table here and there as we dined, but ultimately, each perfectly placed table was filled by at least one party (perhaps not the maximum two they try for each night.

PER SE ( is located on the 4th floor of the Time Warner Building at Columbus Circle with tall two storey windows overlooking the circle, Central Park and just about everything from the Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue up to Central Park North!

Walking into the entrance there are two huge dark blue French doors which we proceeded to enter. They are fake and as we approached a glass sliding door on either side opened for us to proceed....this was weird. Once inside, we are met by a very modern sleek decor that is never overdone, and actually quite understated. The front bar area is large with a huge glass walk-in wine cellar, the dining room much larger than I had expected, but roomy, spacious and comfortable to the max. The inner side of the dining room is raised several steps to a "mezzanine" offering optimum outside viewing for all. We were in a corner cushioned curved sofa "booth" like structure that overlooked the whole dining room and had a superb view for the both of us as we sat side-by-side, but on a small curved settee so we could converse without turning our heads. Every aspect of the decor was very well conceived. We arrived about 10 minutes late for our 5:30pm sitting as the park was still all brightly lit for a clear and beautiful summer's day. A huge fireplace on the outer wall was two-storey high and had a small block of votives in it which was odd, but no bother. As the evening progressed, the sun eventually set and the entire East Side of Manhattan was bathed in pink light which was simply gorgeous.

We asked for bubbly water and were told that PER SE had its own water, sparkling or not, at no extra charge. I am proud of these new filtration systems in high end restaurants, and also the fact that they don't nickel and dime us for the water and don't waste glass or plastic on bottles as well..VERY GREEN.

The sommelier at first seemed daunted by some of my questions, but he did know a lot about the "recommended" wines at the top of each section. When asked what varietals each of several wines contained, he seemed lost. He was a very nice guy, and ultimately led us in the right direction. We started with a bottle of LUCIEN CROCHET PINOT ROSE 2008 from Sancerre which was a new rose to us made from Pinot Noir and had an intense pear flavor and huge pear finish as well, yet was bone dry and delightful.

Have I droned on too much and you are all wondering WHAT DID we eat? or perhaps HOW MUCH WE PAID? PER SE offers only two tasting menus and nothing a la carte, so go planning to eat a lot and to dine a long time...this is your performance for the evening, as I like to say when attending the theater of food. The menus change daily and the vegetarian option is $255, with the Chef's Tasting at $275 with several options for "supplements."

The amuse arrives and is a small curved silver bowl holding two Mornay-filled Gougeres (those divine light cheesy French pastry puffs of air) as well as the French Laundry's signature SALMON CORNET, a small sesame-seed tuille filled with salmon tartare over creme fraiche, always as nice fresh start to any meal.

Our regular menu began with "OYSTERS & PEARLS," a Sabayon of Pearl Tapioca with two petite ISLAND CREEK (Mass) OYSTERS and a large tablespoon size mound of STERLING WHITE STURGEON CAVIAR. This was when we knew we were in for treat after treat as each bite melted in our mouths and excited our palates to no end. Incidentally, the crystal is fine restaurant style and the china a white on white houndstooth pattern that again allows the food to shine.

We came back to the French Laundry with our next "not on the menu" course of the EGG CUSTARD with BLACK TRUFLFLE Ragu and the Chive Potato Chip sticking out from the perfectly cut open at the very top only egg. This is a dish I always remember fondly and love to see heading me way at any fine dining spot.

The bread and salt presentation was next, which took quite some time as a silver container of LESCURE Salted(Fleur de Sel) Butter from France and an organic non-salted one from STRAUSS Family in Marin County accompanied it in a different container (so we could remember which was which). The salts number six with Fleur de Sel and Sel Gris (Gray Fleur de Sel) from France a Hawaiian red Halekulani and black Kilauea, a pink Himalayan and our favorite the English Malden Sea Salt from Essex, which flakes in crystals that are quite large, but has a divine flavor on almost anything, especially fish.

The soft round buttery rolls that came first had fleur de sel on them to boot, but the breads that followed a couple courses later were more complex: German pretzels, Red Potato sourdough, baguettes and the wonderful Alsatian Rye made with duck fat and Riesling! Need I say more. Beware of the breads, there is much more to come.

We upgraded the next course for $30 each to the TERRINE of HUDSON VALLEY MOULARD DUCK FOIE GRAS with a layer of Strawberry Gelee and a Telicherry Pepper-Scented Yogurt with some fresh strawberry slices, watercress and a balsamic reduction. There was also some fresh ground Telicherry pepper to accent the foie gras which was the perfect spice, although we sometimes alternated with the salts, yogurt and balsamic. The terrine was rich, creamy and voluptuous enfolding our tongues in each bite. Fresh toasted brioche arrived, but we used very little of it. About two bites into the terrine, there was a fresh plate of brioche with a remark that "foie gras needs warm brioche." We noticed this was repeated at all tables and we sadly remarked that it was a bit wasteful, as we would have been fine with the first slice.

The other options on this course were Janson Mills' Golden Polenta Cake with Marinated Summer Squash, Garlic Confit, Eggplant Aioli & Arugula Pesto or for an additional $75(!!) Buckwheat Rigatini with Shaved Australian Black Winter Truffles.from a huge lacquered box and done with great flair at each table that ordered it.

Grilled "Pave" of PACIFIC BIGEYE TUNA was a perfectly rare cube of fish with HARICOTS VERTS, Yellow ROMANO Beans, Confit of La Ratte Potatoes (what maketh a potato confit anyway?), frisee lettuce and FRENCH PICKLE SAUCE. First, I must disclose that despite being English, Will is not a big mustard fan, yet he gobbled us this mustardy pickle sauce faster than I could blink. The fish was seasoned with our new favorite MALDEN Sea Salt and again we marveled at the kitchen's restraint, yet perfect combination of excellent ingredients.

The next course had two options so we shared a half of each. PAN SEARED DAY BOAT SCALLOP with Heirloom Cherry Tomato, Compressed English Cucumber, Field Mizuna and "Sauce Choron." I asked what Compressed Cucumber and got an entire chemical explanation which in a nutshell is the result of fooling around in the kitchen with veggies and putting them in bags and vacuuming out the air to get a different texture--IT WORKS! Here I did complain about the stupid big bowls that allows the silverware to fall into the food! HOW DUMB.

The other half of this course was a SAUTEED CALIFORNIA RED ABALONE with "Ris de Veau" (aka SWEETBREADS), Trumpet Royale MUSHROOMS, Greenmarket Carrots and "Bearnaise" Reduction Sauce. I thought this was the better of the two as the abalone, mushroom and sweetbread played off each other with quite similar textures and fooled your eyes and mouth. A true treat and brilliant creation, and now time to rest. We had slowed down the dining as we proceeded and the table of 4 next to us passed us and left an hour before us! We waited about 20-25 minutes and enjoyed the first tastes of our red wine a RIBERA del DUERO 2005 from FINCA VILLACRECES. It was a perfect wine after some breathing for the rest of our dinner.

Our first meat course was a perfect HERB ROASTED CAVENDISH FARM's (Vermont) QUAIL with Black Mission Fig and Fig Marmalade with Red Belgian Endive and Quail Jus. I loved the marmalade and fig as well and the red endive was a nice treat. The quail itself was extremely tender and not gamey at all, indeed almost "quail light" and truly a quintessential treatment of the meat.

The second meat course was RIBEYE of ELYSIAN FIELD's Farm LAMB "Poche en Boullion" with Brentwood Corn Kernels, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Young Onions & Garlic Scapes with "Beurre Colbert" Sauce. I asked whether the butter was named for Claudette or Stephen, and was told, the French Colbert butter. OK, so I joked and lost. The butter was actually for the corn and mushrooms which were the teeniest chanterelles I have ever seen, yet the whole dish was again a perfect production to end whatever act we were up to.

The cheese course was "NEVAT" a Spanish goat that Will called simply boring. It was served with Pain de Campagne Melba Toast, Holland Peppers, Violet Artichokes, Cilantro Shoots and Red Pepper Syrup all of which surpassed the cheese in flavor. The softish slightly aged cheese just lacked character. It was served with Lemon Poppyseed or Prune.Hazelnut Bread, both of which were fresh and tasty as well, but just did not make the cheese any better.

At this time, we noticed a cloudy wine taste being poured at the next table. It turned out this couple were celebrating their 25th visit to Per Se...WOW! Our sommelier Anani told us it was a Slovenian unfiltered Robiolla Giralla grape from Radikon Winery and offered us both tastes...don't bother. This is the first wine I ever had a garlic aftertaste from!

We ordered a glass of DOMAINES de SCHISTES "Solera" from Rivesaltes in Rousillon which is a sweet white Grenache served chilled and tasting like a fortified rose, but not as intense as a port. We loved it!

Our first dessert was BLUEBERRY SORBET with Blueberry "Flapjack" (a rolled oats like granola-bar kind of thing) over Madagascar VANILLA FUDGE and Blueberry Crisp. This was a three bite dessert that we both agreed surpassed all others, and indeed many other desserts we have had round the world. I ADORED the simple sorbet, but paired with the rich fudge and chewy oats it was simply a celestial cuisine experience.

An extra dessert course was added, which we thought was one of the meal's highlights, despite its simplicity: COFFEE & DONUTS was a Brioche Sugar Donut with a Donut Hole sitting in the hole of the larger donut. Paired with this was a divine CAPPUCCINO Semifreddo with hot steamed milk on top in the small cup. The donut idea has been used in so many places, but never taken to such heights with brioche dough and the semifreddo pairing!

The next dessert course was a choice, so again we decided to try both and switch halfway. The "MUD PIE" had a disc shaped Dark Chocolate Mud Cake with Liquid Caramel Sauce, "Chocolate Cremeux" and Caramel Parfait with Sassafras Ice Cream which we both agreed was just too chocolaty rich and heavy for our tastes, especially after such a large meal. The "TORATA di CILIEGE e NOCCIOLE" was a Piedmont Hazelnut Praline with poached Brooks Cherries, Hazelnut Financier and Cherry Reduction with Yogurt-Tarragon Sorbet. While also extremely rich (Washingtonians would be reminded of the similar signature dessert from Michel Richard, also seen today at Tom Power's, ex of Citronelle, Corduroy), it was not as heavy and the cherries created a balance with the tasty sorbet minimizing the sweetness factor. At this point, I was still in heaven from the Blueberry Sorbet & Donuts prior, and little could impress me.

I was wrong, as the post-desserts arrived in the form of a three-bite VANILLA BEAN CREME BRULEE that was warm inside with a superb crunchy topping, that Will having been dubbed as "Creme Brulee Queen of DC" years ago, along with me, endorsed as one of the best ever. It's partner was another three bite delight of PANA COTTA with a layer of STRAWBERRY-LEMON Verbena Jam on the bottom. We were back in the group of those totally impressed with the pastry chef, who it turns out comes from the UK!

The Mignardises were about to come and Will was feeling totally guilty that we had left Samuel over five hours earlier with our dear friend Aunty Lauren (Flanigan, for opera lovers) who had taken him to her apartment to visit her new dog and cat, out for dinner, and then back to the hotel for bed! We asked to have the fruity chocolates packed up as a gift for her and took these along with an additional packages of oaty praline-like bars and made our way back to the hotel.

In a nutshell, there is little to fault at PER SE save the large awkward bowls, the one sink in the men's room that just won't come one at times, and a dessert here and there that is too heavy. Well, with all the other brilliantly impressive desserts, it mattered little to us as we left feeling the omigod way-too-huge bill was really worth the overall experience.

BISTRO MILANO in NYC midtown is a nice find

On Friday we headed out of our hotel just walking west of 5th Avenue on 55th Street and found so many dining options as it was hard to choose. Samuel had PIZZA in his head so we chose BISTRO MILANO at 1350 Avenue of the Americas (6th Ave) with the entrance around the corner on 55th Street. It is an elegant modern bistro with white linens and a wonderful street patio with lots of room where we chose to sit. It is covered by those huge umbrellas and we were happy to enjoy the 70+ degree temps and the quiet day off crowds of NY passersby.

Samuel had the Pizza Margherita which honestly was pretty mediocre. Will opted for a INSALATA di ARAGOSTA ai SOPORI TROPICALI, a fresh whole lobster tail on top of a cylinder of chilled tropical fruit salad. I loved the dish as Will did, but am not a big fruit with lobster person. It had a yummy Avocado Puree and Chili Sauce as well. Breads came with yummy Eggplant Mousse and SunDried Tomato Tapenade. I ordered a 1/2 portion of delectable pasta...PAGLIA e FIENO GRATINATA con PISTELLI e PROSCIUTTO. These tasty white and green noodles were baked with breadcrumbs on top and ham and green peas in a creamy was too rich for me at lunch, even in a 1/2 portion, and I regretted it later in the day, but enjoyed EVERY BITE.

The small streets in the 50th between 5th and 6th Aves. have many wonderful bistro-like places with so many food types, it's a nice find, even if a bit pricey.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

GUANTANAMERA gets better each time I go to NYC

On Thursday we headed to NY with Samuel for the holiday weekend, expecting to arrive at our hotel by 4pm, settle in, and head to an exciting dinner at PER SE (without Sam), but a 5 hour weather delay wreaked havoc with our well laid plans, so we quickly reworked our evenings and upon getting to Manhattan at 8:30pm headed to our friend Mario's wonderful Cuban spot we adore so much, GUANTANAMERA ( on 8th Avenue at 56th St. We met up with our friend Lauren and the place was heaving due to the live Latin entertainment upstairs, so we moved downstairs and tried to order as quickly as possibly to get Sam fed as it was way past his bedtime. He
had been a brilliant sport all day with the delays!

I asked Mario if they had some meatballs or pasta....silly me, this was Cuban food. He quickly ran into the kitchen and said, "NO PROBLEM." We ordered a bottle of superb smooth red Spanish TEMPRANILLO Old Vines 1999 Gran Reserva (I sadly don't have the producer's name).

As always my ENSALATA PALMA REAL was superb with soft ripe avocado slices, artichoke hearts and parmesan. Lauren chose the EMPANADAS of Beef & Chicken, Will went with the CEVICHE of mostly calamari and shrimp which was much better than the last time I had it here.

Sam's SPAGHETTI was fine and the two huge MEATBALLS were outstanding, full of flavor and nice spices. We all tasted them and agreed, Will's POLLO GUANTANAMERA was served in a tasty Garlic Cuban Sauce with Tostones (they were great, but needed the sauce for flavor), Lauren chose my standard, the CHURASACO con CHIMICHURRI which is a superb steak with the most wonderful sauce. Everything comes with great beans and rice, and we all agreed my new choice was the surprise find of the evening, VACA FRITA was a shredded pan-seared steak with Fresh Mojo, onions, parsley and thyme. The meat was tasty with a bit of crunch on the tips and the sauce was divine.

Sam polished off a bowl of Lemon Sorbet drizzled with chocolate sauce (odd choice) and promptly fell asleep as we headed back to our hotel and crashed, totally exhausted.